"There's no need to cheat on the opening ceremony," said Kang Xiaoguang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science. "An open society rests on justice and transparency."
Many average Chinese and local bloggers condemned the practices, an indication of the growing challenge facing an authoritarian state as it tries to control information, perception and policy. Getting caught was an embarrassment.
The closing ceremony seemed more relaxed, perhaps because the end was in sight, but rigid, unsmiling armed police stood guard every 15 feet along the main spectator paths ringing the stadium.
China has also grappled this month with 20,000 foreign journalists on its shores. Though it reneged on its pledge to offer unfettered Internet access, new rules eliminated the need for government approval for interviews. But local police, long used to enormous latitude in squelching critics, have roughed up several foreign reporters. Japanese reporters were beaten up while reporting on a bombing in Xinjiang, AP reporters were shoved as they reported on Tibet protesters, and a British TV journalist was dragged and forced into a van at another protest at a "minority park" near the Olympic Green before being released.
"Although Western reporters have encountered many problems, the Olympic openness is unprecedented," said Zhan Jiang, journalism professor with the China Youth University for Political Sciences. "I think the pressure to open will outweigh the pressure to tighten after the Games."
Global scrutiny and China's emerging middle class continue to challenge the regime's obsession with control. But these forces must overcome a strengthening of the regime's old DNA. "Top leaders will be congratulating themselves by basking in the light of success," said Alfred Chan of Canada's University of Western Ontario.
The Games' success and China's feel-good dividend from a slew of gold medals boosts the regime's popularity and strengthens its argument that only an authoritarian government could accomplish so much so fast.
"The Communist Party has the power to mobilize society for the success of the Olympics," said Wang Zhengdong, 51, a gardener from Hebei province near Beijing. "England, the next Olympic host, can't improve on us because they can't motivate people like our government can."
Furthermore, the ramped-up surveillance, neighborhood snoops, random ID checks and tightened visa policy justified in the name of Olympic security probably will remain in place -- as will problems that were put off until the Games were over.
China has struggled this year with a host of troubles, including unrest in Tibet and a massive earthquake.
Now there are business deals to be closed, citizen complaints to address, visas to be approved and hospital operations to be scrutinized. Food and energy prices are rising, and the global economy is slowing.
"We should brace for more tension," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. "The Olympics have basically frozen the situation in place."
With the foreigners gone, many local governments and citizens who have sacrificed for national glory will start asking why they haven't reaped more from the Olympics.
Although China often says it has its own standards for human rights, media freedom, religious tolerance and free speech, it desperately wants global acceptance, some analysts said. The Olympics were a big part of that.
"They are obsessed with how the world sees them," said Li of the Brookings Institution. "Right now many Chinese people think only a totalitarian state could pull these Olympics off. But democratic forces are powerful, and until they become a political democracy, they will always face domestic and international criticism."